An Open Letter to Miley Cyrus

Dear Miley,

You’ve received your fair share of criticism in recent years. I confess, I liked your show, and I’ve danced to “See You Again” in my living room. I thought you were okay. Like the rest of America, I’ve seen your progression to movies and a solo career. When you started with the twerk and ratchet obsession this year, I was not amused. I rolled my eyes. Then there was Sunday night. I don’t even have a cable subscription, but I couldn’t avoid seeing clips of your performance virtually everywhere online. And I must say, it is not okay. Your performance with the often problematic Robin Thicke amounted to a minstrel show of epic proportions.
[sws_pullquote_right] This has crossed the line from appreciation to appropriation to what I can only describe as a minstrel show of epic proportions. It’s not okay. [/sws_pullquote_right]

I understand that you don’t want to be seen as Billy Ray’s little girl anymore. I understand that you want to try new things and shatter expectations.

Though you grew up extremely privileged, I understand that it can’t be easy for any girl to become a woman in the public spotlight, especially one with a formerly squeaky clean image. Grinding and clothing removal is no longer shocking; the envelope must be pushed father and farther in order to get attention, especially at the VMAs. So I can’t blame you for pushing the envelope as far as you possibly can. It’s the expectation for a female entertainer to be as overtly sexual as possible. I don’t think that it’s your responsibility to be a squeaky clean role model for the rest of your life because you once starred in a kids’ show. If someone is looking for a role model for their children, I don’t think that a video music awards broadcast on MTV is the place to look. I get it.

But co-opting “black” culture and using women of color as props to further your agenda is, in a word, reprehensible.

It’s cultural appropriation. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase by now. You’re not the first.

Most of the people featured on that same broadcast, including Robin Thicke, Justin Timberlake and Macklemore, have all endured accusations of cultural appropriation. And there is a degree of sexism in the way that appropriation is far more likely to be pointed out when a woman does it. You’re not even the first white female entertainer in recent years to use women of color as props. It’s a familiar picture: a thin white woman with stereotypical minorities around her to give her some degree of “street cred.” Also guilty of appropriation: Gwen Stefani and her constant and cringe-inducing use of Asian women as a background during her solo career. However, your boldness at the VMAs has put you at the forefront of this conversation. It doesn’t help that you reportedly told your songwriters, “I just want something that feels Black.” You are equating being black with “twerking” and “ratchet culture.”

When you motorboated that singer’s behind and smacked it, that was pretty much the last straw. It reinforces the message that black woman are nothing more than shapely asses and broad thighs, that we exist for the objectification of others. That it’s alright to smack our asses. That it’s all a big joke. That we don’t just have to deal with the Jezebel stereotype from men of all backgrounds, but also women.  That our bodies are either punchline or a means to an end, a way to show how daring and bold you are by using us as a backdrop.

Your song with Snoop Lion? Subjective. But this? This has crossed the line from appreciation to appropriation to what I can only describe as a minstrel show of epic proportions. Its not okay. You sing that you can’t stop, but I’m imploring you to.

Gif of Rihanna giving Miley a disgusted sideeye from the audience at the VMAs
Rihanna is also not amused.

Note: There has been a wealth of information posted online regarding this, from before the VMAS and some even as I write this. I have included a few links that explore the issue.

Black Women and Twerking: Why Its Creators Face Bigotry That Miley Cyrus Never Will via Gradient Lair

On Miley Cyrus and Racism via The Belle Jar

On Miley Cyrus and Racism via Groupthink at Jezebel

How Miley Cyrus’ Image Evolved Into Calculated Racism via Thought Catalog

5 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Miley Cyrus”

  1. “When you motorboated that singer’s behind and smacked it, that was pretty much the last straw. It reinforces the message that black woman are nothing more than shapely asses and broad thighs, that we exist for the objectification of others.”

    Ugh, that was where my head about exploded.

    The thing is, although her performance with Thicke was nasty, I would have defended it. Turning Thicke into the object of the song and doing lewd things with a big foam finger was pretty hilarious. But the twerking and the way black dancers were used was just disgusting.

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